Notes for a New Day will recount some rather older days during the next few months – journal entries from my pilgrimage on Spain’s camino in 2013.
After an hour or so zipped into my sleeping bag I am finally warm, and have finished the book I had grabbed off of my towering bedside stack of “Books to Read Someday” before leaving for Spain. I had brought The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch with me because it fit the bill – very thick, but very light. I had not read anything by Murdoch before, and shortly into the book I knew I had found a new author for me. Her descriptive writing doesn’t mask her great sense of story. I don’t know if this is typical of her books, but there are many moments with the nearly slapstick sense of a whodunnit. And then, rather suddenly – on page 465 in fact – it became apparent that this was the perfect book to bring on the camino. The central character, Charles, is writing a diary, doing a lot of self-reflection and ultimately shedding many old thoughts and concerns. A character appears now and then throughout, but in fact hovers over the whole story, and that character is named James. We’re on the Way of St. James, remember. At the end, lots of words about love and trying to do a little good in the world, and then, the final sentence. An Asian casket, said to hold a demon, which had hung in the apartment where James lived has fallen and broken. The story’s narrator, Charles, finishes by saying: “Upon the demon-ridden pilgrimage of life, what next I wonder?”
You cannot make this stuff up.
The girl in the next bunk has the book now. Though Kate is from Germany she tells me that she enjoys reading in English. I’ve included a note on the endpaper with my email address, asking anyone who comes upon the book while walking the camino to contact me if they also find this book to be a perfect companion on their way. (in fact, one person did email me months later though we didn’t get into an extended online book discussion and it wasn’t clear if he made the same connections between book and experience that I did).
This day ends with dinner at the restaurant next to the albergue. We are seated next to the most delightful couple imaginable – Paul and Roisin from Dublin. He works for an Irish MP and had a lot of questions about American politics. (This was 2013 fortunately, so those questions were a lot easier to answer). Paul tried very hard to understand American attitudes towards gun control, but I wasn’t able to illuminate that topic for him much. A really enjoyable and lively conversation. If we all approached life as though we were constantly on pilgrimage maybe we would meet strangers with more sense of inquiry and camaraderie and have many such conversations.
What next I wonder?